For the last few weeks we have been looking at picture book versions of Cinderella. This week we look at a version from Korea. It was written by Shirley Climo and exquisitely illustrated by Ruth Heller.
Shirley Climo has written several different Cinderella variations as well as some lovely books about spiders. We own her Someone Saw a Spider and the delightful Cobweb Christmas which is a tale about how we get tinsel. It's made from spider silk. Didn't you know?
Harper Collins says of the illustrations:
"it should be noted that all the illustrations—from those depicting Korean rituals to the smallest clothing details—are the result of the illustrator's extensive research and passionate interest in Korean culture."
This tale takes place at a time where "magical creatures were as common as cabbages" and it is these magical creatures who help our protagonist Pear Blossom in her time of need. When her father remarries it is only with Pear Blossom's welfare in mind--he wants her to have a mother and a sister, but the text says her stepsister Peony was "worse than having no sister at all."
As her father grows older and more feeble, her stepmother and stepsister make her life more miserable. As in many of these tales, our heroine is forced to toil in the kitchen and do dirty work and wear rags.We forget that Cinderella is really Ella of the Cinders and not her actual name. In this story Pear Blossom is called Pig or Little Piglet because of her dirty appearance. Here she lives under the constant threat of being sold at market or being sent to China if she does not complete the impossible tasks set before her. She is ordered to fill a broken jug with water, collect and polish the grains of rice that have been scattered over a field and weed the rice paddy before she can go to the festival. She is aided by a toad, a flock of sparrows and a large black ox in these tasks.
She does go to the festival but does not have any special shoes or clothes to wear. She is given a basket of fresh fruit from the ox to take as her picnic. In all the other tales it is either at the ball or at church where she is seen and the Prince falls in love with her. Here a young nobleman is passing by on his palanquin being carried to the festival where he frightens Pear Blossom who is shaking a stone from her shoe by the side of the road. She loses her straw sandal and runs away. In the other tales she runs home after losing her shoe, but here she just goes to the festival with one shoe.
Her stepmother and stepsister Peony find her at the festival eating fresh fruit and accuse of her of stealing it. The magistrate comes and is looking for the woman wearing only one shoe. In other tales they try to hide the heroine so that she might not try on the shoe, but here thinking she being arrested as a thief they gladly point her out to the magistrate in an effort to get her out of the way. This backfires spectacularly when they discover she is being sought so she can marry the rich nobleman.
It is a satisfying story and we will look at a few more of Shirley Climo's retellings over the next few weeks.
That's all fr this week. Stay tuned next week for a tale of an Irish Cinderlad.